Pigeons playing Ping-Pong: fact or fiction?

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00-skinnerbird-01.jpgFact. Have you ever seen a pigeon play Ping-Pong? Well through simple animal training techniques this is an actuality. Using a couple simple training techniques an animal behaviorist, named B.F. Skinner, was able to teach two pigeons to play during World War II. Skinner later had the idea based off of the Ping-Pong experiment to use pigeons to help guide missiles to specific targets during the war. In theory the pigeons would help to avoid human causalities from fighter pilots getting shot down, as the pigeons were much smaller targets. Although, Skinner's theories about pigeon guided missiles was never actually attempted during the war.

Skinner used a technique called shaping by successive approximations, or shaping. Shaping is used to achieve a particular behavior by finding one that is close to the desired behavior and then slowly "fading" out the behaviors closer and closer to the desire one. Skinner also used chaining, which links two smaller behaviors, that are easier to train, together. By doing this, the animal is cued from the second behavior by merely doing the first and so on. With the successful chaining of the two behaviors, Skinner was able to teach the pigeons to play a seemingly never-ending game of Ping-Pong.

In fact Skinner's techniques on animal training are still used by animal trainers today.


To view the pigeons playing Ping-Pong click here.

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Using animals as weapons delivery systems was common near the end of WWII. In fact, the Russians had trained their dogs to attack tanks using the same methods that Skinner used to train his pigeons. The training 'shaped' their dogs to be able to sniff out gasoline. Once they found the gasoline, the chained behavior was to lay down with the smell of gasoline. In the field, the dog-bomb would be detonated when the animal laid down.

However, the dog-bomb system didn't work out for the Russians. Many dogs would forget their training out of fear when the tanks would fire off. The dogs that weren't afraid of the noise weren't much help either. Having been trained on the smell and sight of Russian tanks, the dogs would run toward Russian tanks and unintentionally kill friendly soldiers. Obviously, the training was too good.

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This page contains a single entry by masu0038 published on January 27, 2012 7:27 PM.

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